Virtual Reality has been a lot of fun for a few years now, but a new VR platform unveiled at the Professional Convention Management Association Convening Leaders conference may mark the tipping point from entertainment to business essential.
Freeman, the world’s largest brand experience company, showcased a VR platform that should appeal to meeting planners, product marketers, and education specialists, and those whose domains overlap into all three. The new platform encompasses five products, VR Explorer, VR Product Explorer, VR Films and Video, Live VR Streaming, and Custom VR Experiences.
The first is exactly what you think: Freeman will build an environment for you, whether a convention hall so your clients can experience the venue from their office to decide if it fits their trade show; or an immersive version of your booth, so you can send a link and a pair of goggles to stakeholders and have them walk through to review the design. No more static scale models or PDFs, the user can go up and down stairs, view the space from any angle, and interact with items in the space. A neat trick in the demo is to allow users to pick up keyboards in a VR exhibition booth and move them around, even knock them into monitors and see a shattered LCD screen.
I was given my tour by Wilson Tang, vice president, digital experience, Freeman XP Digital, who explained that you can have as many people walk through the model as you like, together or independently, and discuss in real-time or send suggestions on, for example, where booth visitors should sit or where the phone chargers should be located. Viewing venues via VR has been around for a while, but as soon as you strap on the goggles the value of the other VR products offered by Freeman becomes clear. Product demonstrations are an obvious area that can benefit from this experience. For example, if you are planning the launch of a new car, you can now have participants put on the goggles and drive the car without giving your insurance procurer a heart attack. Releasing a new heart medication? Have doctors see exactly how the drug will interact with the heart by allowing them to move around inside the organ watching the drug’s effect. Your customers can be part of a guided experience or zoom in on any part of the presentation independently. Tang says the payment structure for the platform is evolving for different products, “we’re experimenting with different models from one-time fees to subscription and licensing models."
Tang says, “This is not a parlor trick or a video game, we want to solve business problems,” and it is easy to see how VR Product can educate customers on new products and services without having to invest in hardware that may soon become obsolete. This is because hardware is secondary to Freeman’s model; the tool is platform agnostic, so you can choose your own headsets according to preference and budget. I used Google Daydream and HTC Vive for my VR experiences, but you can let any of your gamer stakeholders use their own. The experience works off a phone linked to Freeman’s content so they are actively supporting Google Daydream because of its native support for Android.
Tang calls these immersive experiences the next level of storytelling, and an inclusive tool to stream the experience to people who may not make it to your event. Tang does not see this VR as a replacement for face-to-face meetings, but more as a convenience to enhance them and draw more people to the next one. He says streaming helped SXSW and Google I/O increase their attendees because it showed what people were missing out on. Tang gives the example of watching football, “you can watch games on HD, 4K widescreen TV but hundreds of thousands of people still go to the stadium every week.”